Finn walked into the apartment. It was the middle of the night; the window was open, and the place was cold. Finn shut the window by sliding it down. His roommate, Eric, wasn't in. Finn didn't know where he was and didn't care all that much. Finn had just finished his shift at the bar where he worked; he was tired and wanted to sleep.
But first, he shuffled into the kitchen to get himself some water. The kitchen was a mess as always. Eric had left cigarette butts and empty beer bottles in the sink. Finn downed a glass of water and then shambled into the living room. It was in an equally bad state: Takeout containers with leftover chicken wings were lying on the table. Finn tried to ignore that, along with the smell of mayonnaise that was prickling his nostrils.
He walked into his room. It had a bed, a wardrobe and not much else. A keyboard was positioned in the corner. Finn hadn't touched it for many months. Ever since he had dropped out of college, ended up in a seedy area of the city, and found a part-time job at a bar, he had no desire to play it or write songs.
In a matter of a few months, Finn's life had changed dramatically. He had been enrolled in a university, but the studies weren't going well. Finn had dyslexia and had always struggled academically. He had thought that he'd do better at college. But that had turned out not to be the case. At last, he decided to leave. Finn knew that his parents would be mad. And they were — they no longer supported him financially. Finn was told to get a job and learn to get by on his own. Unfortunately, the only job that he had been able to find was that of a part-time bartender.
The bar was located on a street called Crescent Avenue. Twenty years ago or so, it used to be a famous entertainment spot. It had casinos, music and comedy clubs, and swanky hotels. Young artists used to come here hoping to get noticed.
But that was in the past. These days, Crescent Avenue, or simply The Avenue, was a place of cheap bars, strip clubs, and tattoo and piercing parlors. Billboards and neon signs were all over the street. In addition to businesses, The Avenue also had residential apartment buildings. By and large, these were old and decrepit. Many of their windows were broken, trash was lying right by their entrances, and their walls were sprayed with graffiti.
Finn had found a cheap room to rent in one of these buildings. He didn't have money for anything better. The apartment consisted of two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a living room. The living room only had a sofa, a table, and a carpet. The carpet was dusty and had mites living in it.
Eric worked in a liquor store. When he wasn't working, he was at the apartment, smoking and consuming alcohol that he had brought from work. Either that or he was out with his friends. Finn wasn't close with Eric. It seemed like Eric was a slacker with a possible drinking problem — Finn wasn't eager to befriend him.
Most of the time, Finn was unhappy. A sense of direction was missing from his life. It was also lacking in friendship, love, or anything else that was meaningful.
The bar where Finn worked featured live music acts. Even though Finn loved music, he found the performances at the bar by and large uninspired and uninspiring. The Avenue used to be a place of many famous music clubs. Many bands from previous decades had found an audience here. The bar tried to recreate that or pay homage to it or something of the kind. Every Friday, the club featured live performances by amateur acts, mostly older men. They mainly played covers of old pop songs or jazz and blues stuff.
Finn mostly only liked electronic and rock music; he wasn't into any of that. He looked at the keyboard once more. Not that long ago, he used to write his own songs with it and then sing them. Now there was little music in his life, apart from what he heard at the bar on Fridays. But he didn't want to think about it anymore. He was exhausted and needed to sleep. Finn turned off the light and closed his eyes.
On the next day, Finn was at the bar to do his shift. In the beginning, he had to get the place ready for when the customers would be here. Then, he started wiping the counters and polishing the glasses. Today was Friday — the day when live music was played.
Soon the bar was prepared. Finn sat down behind it as there wasn't a lot to do. The place itself was small and largely drowning in darkness; the only fully illuminated area was the stage. Customers began arriving — many of them regulars.
The performances started, and a few middle-aged guys came onstage to sing covers of old songs. Steven, who worked here, was introducing them. But then, a young guy who looked the same age as Finn walked out. He was carrying an electric guitar.
Steven was standing next to him, holding a microphone. "Please tell us what's your name and what you'll be performing for us tonight," he said.
"My name is Rowan, and I'll be playing the guitar. No singing, just the guitar."
"OK, the stage is yours then, Rowan," Steven said and walked away.
Something about this guy caught Finn's attention. Not only was he Finn's age, but he also played the electric guitar — a normal instrument. Some of the old dudes played ukuleles, saxophones, and flutes. Finn hated the way they sounded. The guy then started playing. He performed shortened versions of rock songs — some classic, some modern — with a special emphasis on guitar solos. He ended the set with music that Finn hadn't heard before. It had to be his original stuff.
The guitarist, Rowan, got a lukewarm reaction from the audience, which were used to hearing singing as bad as it sometimes was. When he got offstage, he sat at the bar and ordered a drink. While the guy was sipping his martini, Finn was watching him. Then he spoke to him.
"I liked your performance," he said quietly.
"You did? Why thank you. What did you like about it?"
"Just the way you are with the guitar. You have a very good technique, but your playing is also soulful; it seems like you really love doing it. Did you write the final tunes?"
"Yes. I've been playing the guitar for a while, and recently I've come up with a few riffs and solos."
"That's awesome. I write, play, and sing too."
"You do? What type of music do you make?"
"I play the keyboard, so I guess that makes it electronic music. But I like incorporating elements from different styles of music. I like writing pop hooks and singalong choruses. And I often imagine how my songs would sound like with added guitar sounds as if they were electro-rock or dance-rock songs."
"You sound like a really capable, versatile musician and songwriter. And you can also sing, unlike me. Do you think we should try playing together?"
Finn was flabbergasted by the suggestion. Should they? Finn liked Rowan's way of playing and his original material. But Finn had never played with anyone else. He hadn't even picked up the keyboard for many months. But then again, there wasn't much else going on in his life. "Yes, we can try. I mean, why not?" he finally said.
They then agreed to meet at Finn's apartment in two days.
On the day when Rowan was supposed to come over, Finn was cleaning up. Eric, who was about to leave for work, wanted to know what was going on. "Somebody is supposed to come over," Finn said while wiping the table.
"Who's that somebody?"
"A friend," Finn said, not knowing what else to say.
"Since when do you have friends who pay you visits?"
"Maybe I have now," Finn retorted.
Eric was then gone. Soon the doorbell rang, and Finn hurried to open the door. Rowan was standing in the hallway with his guitar. "Hey, Finn. Are you ready to play together?" he asked, smiling.
Finn went to get the keyboard. He placed it in the living room and wiped the dust off it too. He then brought music paper with songs that he had written. He showed them to Rowan, who said that he could read music minimally and preferred to play by ear.
The window was open; the car noises from the street were reaching the apartment. They started with Rowan playing the pieces of music that he had written. He also demonstrated the guitar playing techniques that he knew — bending, vibrato, and alternate picking among them. That left Finn impressed.
"Where did you learn all that?" he asked. "Did you take lessons?"
"No, no lessons. Just from listening to a lot of guitar-driven songs. And watching countless guitar lesson videos and practicing for hours. But I want to hear what you can do."
Finn sat down at the keyboard. It had been a long time since he had played. But when his fingers touched the keys, it was exactly as it had always been: His playing was smooth and gliding as if his hands were made for this. He played a few songs that he had written.
"What do you think?" Finn asked.
"I think we should combine our music."
"That's what I was thinking," Finn said.
Finn played the songs again while Rowan added riffs and solos. The sound was surprisingly fresh and original. Finn also started singing the lyrics that he had written.
Finn and Rowan ended up spending the next few hours together, playing music and getting to know each other. Finn learned that Rowan lived nearby but in a better neighborhood. "I just come to The Avenue because I like it. I love being here and thinking about what it was like before. You know, when it was this place of luxury hotels, music clubs, and rock bands."
"That was a long time ago," Finn said. "Now it's a has-been place full of has-beens, as well as drunks, strippers, and criminals."
"So, what brought you here?"
Finn told Rowan his story of flunking college, then dropping out altogether and angering his parents in the process. "So I ended up here. And I feel like I don't know where I'm going in life. I know that I don't want to stay on The Avenue; I just don't have anywhere else to go right now."
Finn continued playing with Rowan. They met every week. They also went to Rowan's house a couple of times. Although Finn had written quite a few songs before they had met, they weren't exactly amazing. He thought that he should try writing new ones as uninspired as he felt.
Since Finn was spending all of his time on The Avenue, he decided to try writing songs about it. He wrote about streets that no longer were what they used to be. And about roaming these streets, feeling like a stranger in a strange land. One of the songs was about a stripper. It described her being ashamed of what she was doing for a living and wanting a better life. It paralleled Finn's feelings about his own life right now.
Rowan said that he loved Finn's songs. He said that he especially liked the storytelling aspect of his music. He added his guitar compositions to them. When they were playing together and actually creating decent pieces of music, Finn's depression appeared to be lifting. It no longer seemed like he was lost in a maze, unable to find the way out.
They continued for a few more months. Then, one day, Rowan arrived at Finn's apartment with a glowing smile on his face.
"What is it?" Finn asked, almost suspiciously.
"I have amazing news," Rowan said while putting his guitar next to the sofa. Then he sat down. Finn did too. "The Temple is reopening."
"It's a classic Crescent Avenue music venue! It used to be the place where all the new bands used to come to get noticed. They've been renovating it for the last two years. It'll finally reopen next month. And they're going to have live performances."
Finn observed a cockroach crawling across the carpet. "Do you want to go to the opening?" he asked.
Rowan bit his lower lip. "They were looking for local musicians who wanted to play on the opening night. I signed us up as one of the acts."
Finn was quiet for a bit. He understood now why Rowan was so excited about an old venue reopening. "Rowan, I'm not sure if we are an act. We're two guys with decent instrument playing skills that have written a few OK songs. But we've just been doing it for ourselves. I don't know if we're ready to perform in front of an audience. I never even thought about doing that. I've only ever played in front of my family and friends. And you."
"Yes, but there's a first time for everything. And you have to do things before you're ready. I know that these are cliché sayings, but they're true. Besides, I've already signed us up. Look, Finn — you're an excellent singer and keyboardist. You're just self-conscious. Like you said yourself, you don't know where you're going in life. Perhaps music is the way to get somewhere."
"If you say so," Finn muttered. "Even though I've never seen it as more than a hobby."
"Well, maybe you should try seeing it as more than that. Should we start the practice?"
"All right," Finn said while getting up. He'd have to go along with Rowan's plan and play at the club. Rowan was too excited — Finn couldn't possibly ask him to withdraw them. And maybe there was something to him saying that music was the way to get somewhere. Even if Finn didn't know exactly where.
Finn and Rowan spent the next month preparing for the performance. Finn was both thrilled and apprehensive. But he still tried as much as he could to practice the songs and polish their sound. He didn't want to fail in front of a real audience. By now, Eric had learned that Finn and Rowan were a musical act and were getting ready for a club performance. He was often at home when they were practicing but mostly stayed in his room or the kitchen.
When the time of the reopening had almost come, Finn and Rowan had to come up with the name of the act and their onstage look. They decided to simply go with Finn and Rowan as neither could come up with anything more creative. As for their image, they ransacked a vintage clothing store on The Avenue. Rowan suggested trying on funny-looking clothes that old rockers would wear. Finn picked out ripped jeans, a black sleeveless shirt with a skull picture, and a bunch of necklaces with crosses. Rowan got faux leather pants and a snakeskin print jacket; he also put on a fedora hat.
They assessed their appearance in the changing room's mirror. "We look ridiculous," Finn said and chuckled. "Like two dudes who got rejected when auditioning for a rock band back in The Avenue's heyday."
"I think that's the look we're going for," Rowan said and laughed too.
"I think you're right; let's stick with this."
Two days before the performance, Finn was walking home from a practice at Rowan's. He was carrying the keyboard under his arm. It was late in the evening, and The Avenue's neon signs were shining in the darkness. Only a few people were out on the street.
"Hey, fella," someone said while tapping Finn on the shoulder. "What are you carrying?"
Finn spun around. It was a man who appeared to be in his forties or fifties. His hair was long, a few of his teeth were missing, and his clothes were disheveled. He had to be homeless. His eyes were fixed on the keyboard.
"Nothing that is of interest to you," Finn snarled.
"I can see that it's a keyboard. And a nice one too," he said.
Then, before Finn managed to react, the man grabbed the keyboard and darted into a back alley. Finn sprinted after him, but the man ran quickly; he descended further and further away. The thief ran past the garbage bins that were situated on the side of the street. He then turned and dashed into a different street and disappeared from the view. Finn stopped running. This was pointless. The man had gotten away with stealing his keyboard.
When Finn was back at the apartment, he collapsed on the sofa. He had thought that he'd be furious at the hobo. That he'd want to report it to the police straight away. But he was just emotionless, without a desire to do anything. Eric ambled into the room. He sat down on the sofa and opened a can of beer that he was holding. "What happened to you?" he asked without much curiosity.
"I can no longer play at the reopening," Finn said.
Eric gave him a concerned look. "What do you mean?"
"My keyboard was stolen. Just now, on the street. And no, I don't have money to buy a new one two days before the performance."
"The Avenue can be dangerous like that."
"Don't I know it," Finn said irritably.
"Hey, you know what? I can help you out."
"Yes. My uncle has a keyboard at his home. I'll ask him to let me borrow it."
Finn sat up. It was incredible that Eric could help him. Even more incredible was that he wanted to. Why would his selfish, self-absorbed, lazy roommate want to do something for him? Since Finn had moved into the apartment, Eric had been treating him like a nuisance and nothing more.
"I'll go and call him right now," Eric said and stood up.
Ten minutes later, Eric told Finn that he could get the keyboard tomorrow. A bit later, Finn was on the phone with Rowan, telling him about the events of the last hour. "I'm sorry that it happened," Rowan said. "Two days before the performance too! But we're lucky that Eric's uncle has a keyboard. Hopefully, it's good enough."
On the following evening, Rowan was in the apartment with Finn. They were waiting for Eric to come back from his uncle's. He was soon back in the apartment, clutching a big red keyboard. "See if this thing is any good," he said.
Finn positioned the keyboard and played a few chords. The sound was a bit different, but the keyboard was fully functional. Rowan joined him on the guitar, and Finn learned that Rowan's guitar and the borrowed keyboard sounded good together.
"Thanks, Eric," Finn said. "I'm really grateful that you did this for me."
"Yeah, no problem."
"Hey, Eric . . . why did you do this?" Finn wanted to know.
"Well . . ." Eric hesitated. "To be honest, I admire you guys. You two met and started playing together and writing songs. And now you're going to be performing at what used to be the most well-known venue around. I think that's cool. You two kind of make me want to do something with my life."
On the next day, the day of the club's reopening, Finn and Rowan were at the venue a few hours before it was supposed to open its doors to guests. The club was much larger than Finn's bar. The stage was painted blue, while the rest of it was entirely black. A disco ball was hanging from the ceiling. Photos of the bands that had performed here in the past were adorning the walls.
Finn and Rowan met the other performers. A lot of them were also young. "I used to love all the original Avenue acts," the singer of one of the bands said to Finn. "And the reopening of The Temple is kind of like The Avenue regaining some of its former glory. I also heard that a lot of music industry executives would be here. People like Elijah Johnson, Thomas Moore, William Davis. Maybe they want to see if the new bands are any good."
Finn didn't know who any of these people were. Did they use to be well-known before, in the old Avenue days?
The guests started arriving. It wasn't long before the club was chock-full. As strange as it was, Finn wasn't particularly nervous about playing in front of such a large crowd.
Then it was time for the performances to begin. The lights above the stage switched on, illuminating it. The host, who introduced himself as Jeff, spoke into a microphone: "Tonight is the night when the legendary, or in the least, quite famous The Temple music club opens once again! The evening will start with performances from local bands. In the old days, The Temple used to be the venue where all the young performers wanted to be, hoping to gain an audience.
Consequently, we decided to honor the club's past. After that, we'll have a happy hour with all drinks costing half of their usual price. Let the evening begin!"
Finn and Rowan were the third performers on the schedule. The first band walked out. They played fast-paced rock songs. After that, the second act performed more mellow music. Then it was Finn and Rowan's turn.
Finn came out and positioned the keyboard by the microphone stand. The lights were too bright for him to really see anyone. He glanced back at Rowan. He was holding the guitar that he had plugged in. He nodded encouragingly while looking at Finn. They were ready to begin.
"Good evening," Finn said. "We're Finn and Rowan. We met and started playing here, on Crescent Avenue. Here are a few songs that we wrote that were inspired by it."
They launched into the set. Finn sang about the streets that no longer were what they used to be. And about walking these streets, feeling like a stranger in a strange land. And about a stripper who worked in one of the clubs. They finished with two happier songs. The first one was hopeful; it was about being in a bad place but believing that things would change. The last one was an upbeat number about having a fun night out and spending all your money. It was a fantasy song about what Finn would do if he had any money to spend. To his surprise, some of the people in the audience picked up the lyrics of the chorus and were singing along by the end of the song.
When they were leaving the stage, Finn had a warm, tickling feeling in his stomach. It had gone better than expected! Then it was time for the happy hour. Even though Finn didn't drink, he decided that he would this time. He got a tequila sunrise cocktail and found out that it tasted good. So he ordered one more and then another one. Then someone else offered him some of what he was drinking. It wasn't long before Finn began feeling sick.
"I don't feel so good," he told Rowan.
"Buddy, I don't think you're suited for heavy drinking. Or any kind of drinking," Rowan said. "You should go home and go to sleep."
Finn agreed with that. He left the club and lurched home. He stumbled into the apartment and slumped on his bed. His head was spinning, but he was still able to fall asleep fast.
When Finn woke up, it was morning, and the sunlight was coming into the room. His head was hurting, and he was ravenous. He got up and trudged into the kitchen to make himself something to eat and maybe swallow a painkiller. He took his phone with him.
While he wasn't feeling great, Finn was still buzzed about how unexpectedly well their performance had gone. He sat down at the table and looked at his phone, seeing that he had five missed calls from Rowan. They were both from last night and this morning. Maybe he was worried if Finn was all right? Finn called back.
"Finn!" Rowan yelled when he picked up. "Are you OK?"
"Yes. I have a bit of a headache, but I'm fine."
"I have to tell you something. Have you heard of Thomas Moore?"
"The name sounds familiar."
"He's a band manager. He's managed many Avenue bands over the years. He approached me yesterday after you left. He told me that he was impressed with our performance."
"Really? What else did he say?"
"That he wants to have a meeting with us. He wants to have lunch with us. Can you imagine? A band manager wants to have lunch with us!"
"Wow. Now I see why you called so many times. When does he want to do it?"
"Tomorrow at twelve, at the Fountain Café. I said that we'd be there."
"That's awesome. I guess we're meeting with a band manager tomorrow then," Finn said, not knowing what else to say as this was so unexpected.
On the next day, the sun was once again shining over the city. At about 11:30, Finn left the apartment to meet with Rowan and Thomas Moore.
The Fountain Café was located further along Crescent Avenue. As Finn was pacing ahead, he reached a newsstand. One of the papers caught his eye. On the front page was a picture of The Temple and an article about the reopening. Finn stopped to skim through it. He was amazed to see that they were mentioned in the article:
The club reopened with a succession of performances from local bands. One of the most memorable was by two young musicians named Finn and Rowan. One of them sang and played the keyboard while the other was on the electric guitar. By the end of their set, they had the crowd singing along.
Even though it was only three sentences, it was still significant. Finn put the paper back and walked to the café. Not only had they been noticed by a band manager, but they were also mentioned in a newspaper. Was this actually happening?
When Finn had reached the café, Rowan was already there. He was sitting at an outdoor table next to the entrance. He waved to Finn.
"Thomas should be here any minute," he said.
In about five minutes, Thomas Moore was at the café. He had a beer belly and was wearing sunglasses and a hat. Thomas started talking about how much he had liked their performance:
"Guys, I think you two are really good. You're on the level of many of the original bands that came out of the Crescent Avenue scene. It's especially remarkable since you've only been together for a couple of months (as Rowan told me). What do you think about being in a real band and attempting to get a record deal?"
Rowan looked at Finn. "Is that something you want, Finn?" he asked.
Did he? He had to think about it. Although, no, he didn't. "Yes, I do. That's what I want to do. Music is the only thing I love. And this experience has made me realize that it's the one thing I can excel at."
"That's what I expected to hear. Now, about actually being in a band. As a musical group, you're incomplete. You should find a bassist and a drummer. When you do that, let me know, and I'll see if they're any good. Then, when you'll be fully formed, I'll try to get you record deal auditions. In the meantime, you have to keep on practicing. You can't relax and let your abilities diminish. On the contrary, you have to sharpen them to improve your chances. You also have to write more songs and have more material ready. And you might want to change your onstage wardrobe. I don't think two young dudes should look like aging rockers."
On their way back from the café, Finn showed Rowan the paper. Rowan ended up buying it. "One day, when we're famous, this will be a piece of history," he said. "A first-ever printed mention of musical legends Finn and Rowan!"
They soon reached Finn's apartment.
"We should celebrate," Rowan said when they were inside.
"I have to work tonight," Finn answered.
Eric walked into the living room. "Celebrate what?" he asked.
Finn and Rowan told Eric about the meeting with Thomas.
"That should be celebrated," Eric agreed.
"Finn's working tonight, so maybe tomorrow we can go out," Rowan suggested.
"I don't have any money. I mean, I have a bit, but I need to save to buy a new keyboard," Finn said.
"We can celebrate right here," Eric said. "In fact, I have an idea for what we can do. The only condition is that we have to meet in the evening."
On the following day, Rowan came to the apartment at around seven-thirty. He was carrying a cake. He told Finn and Eric that he had bought it on the way here. Eric took out two champagne bottles from the fridge. He then told them what his plan was: "Let's go up onto the rooftop so that we can watch the sunset."
"We can do that?" Finn asked.
"Yes. I have a key."
They walked up the hallway stairs. When they had reached the door at the top of the stairs, Eric put the key in the lock and turned it. The door opened, and they walked out on the roof.
It was windy, and the breezes were blowing on Finn's face. But the view was mesmerizing. The buildings and billboards looked imposing from this vantage point, and the pink clouds added an unexpected charm to the street.
They sat down, then drank the champagne and gobbled down the cake. Finn only drank a bit; his previous experience with alcohol still fresh in his memory.
Then it was sunset time. Finn, Rowan, and Eric moved closer to the edge and watched the sun disappear behind the buildings. After this, Eric went back to the apartment to get his jacket as it was starting to get chilly. Finn and Rowan stayed sitting on the ground.
"The view's amazing," Finn whispered.
"Undeniably," Rowan agreed. "From time to time, The Avenue can be breathtaking."
"And, as I've learned, it can also be a place where to find success. I still can't believe that the events of the last few days were real. When we first met and started playing, I didn't think it would go anywhere. It was just a way to escape the boredom and depression that I was going through."
"It was different for me," Rowan said. "I always knew, right from the beginning, that there was something special about us playing together. We just clicked, and the music that came was good. When I signed us up for the show, it was because I believed that we were good enough to get noticed. And, unlike you, I never thought of The Avenue as just a dump. Especially now, when The Temple has reopened, and all the local talent and talent scouts flocked to be there when it happened."
"In the end, I'm glad that I came to live on The Avenue," Finn uttered. "When I first got here, it seemed like the last place where I was supposed to be. I saw it as a street only frequented by strippers, drunks, and criminals. I didn't believe that I would make any friends here. Nor that it could inspire me to write songs. But then I met you, and everything changed. Now it seems like I was meant to come here."
"It's the same for me," Rowan said. "I never knew why I had a fascination with this street. Now I think that maybe I was destined to come across that specific bar, play at it, meet you and then perform at The Temple."
Finn turned to look at Crescent Avenue; its big billboards and bright neon signs. For the first time in months, he was fulfilled, calm and grateful. Grateful that he had come here. In the beginning, The Avenue had seemed like the wrong place to be. But now it seemed like the right one.